Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The NRC Chairman, Acta Est Fabula

With today’s announcement the drama surrounding the Chairman of the NRC has played out to its foreseeable conclusion.  The merits of the Chairman’s leadership of the agency are beyond the scope of this blog, but there are a few aspects of his tenure that may be relevant to nuclear safety culture in high performing organizations, not to mention in high places.

First we should note that we have previously blogged about speeches and papers (here, here and here) given by the Chairman wherein he emphasized the importance of safety culture to nuclear safety.  In general we applauded his emphasis on safety culture as being necessary to raise the attention level of the industry.  Over time, as the NRC’s focus became absorbed with the Safety Culture Policy Statement we became less enamored with the Chairman’s satisfaction with achieving consensus among stakeholders as almost an end to itself.  The resultant policy statement with a heavy tilt to attitudes and values seemed to lack the kind of coherence that a regulatory agency needs to establish inspectable results.  As Commissioner Apostolakis so cogently observed, “...we really care about what people do and maybe not why they do it….”

Continuing with that thought, and if the assertions made by the four other Commissioners are accurate, what the Chairman’s did as agency head seems to have included intimidation, lack of transparency, manipulation of resources, and other behaviors not on the safety culture list of traits.  It illustrates, again, how easy it is for organizational leaders to mouth the correct words about safety culture yet behave in a contradictory manner.  We strongly suspect that this is another situation where the gravitational force of conflicting priorities - in this case a political agenda - was sufficient to bend the boundary line between strong leadership and self interest.

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